June 9, 2013

Impact of Prison and Jail Population on the Labor Force Data

I've been talking about the labor force lately and changes in the labor force participation for men and women.  The labor force participation dropped a couple percent in the past few years.  Where did the labor force go?     I've been examining a few theories to see where some of the people might have gone.

Recently  I looked at how the military population might impact the labor force figures.   Active military personnel are not included in the government labor force data.   The BLS only looks at the 'civilian noninstitutionalized population'.   Another group that the government doesn't consider is the people in prison.   So changes in the prison population might impact the labor force data.   Are we putting more people in prison?    Could that decrease the labor force?   What if we threw another couple million people in prison and jails in the past 5 years, that would surely move the labor force statistics. 

I got data on the prison and jail population from the Bureau of Justice Statistics.  I got recent data for prisoners as of 2009 and persons incarcerated for 1993 and 1988.   I added up the numbers for prison and jail inmates for both state and federal.

Here is the total number if people in state and federal prisons and jails :

ALL Men Women
2009 1,617,478 1,502,499 114,979
2000 1,391,261 1,298,027 93,234
1993 1,391,878 1,293,198 98,221
1988 947,301 886,745 60,556

As you might have guessed the prison and jail population is dominated by men.

To see how this compares to the labor force data I got the labor 'civilian noninstitutionalized population' figures from the BLS.   I used the data for 16 years and older.   I don't know the age range data for the prison population, but I'm sure its close enough.  

Here is how the inmate population is proportional to the 'civilian noninstitutionalized population' :

There hasn't been much change.    The % of the male population jumped a bit between '88 and '93 but has not varied more than 0.1% since.    The population of women inmates is virtually flat.

From 2000 to 2009 the % of inmates for men rose just 0.04% and women was up 0.01%.     Those are pretty marginal differences.

My conclusion is that changes in the inmate population have not been large enough lately to have much of a noticeable impact on the labor force statistics.

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